Derrick Morton dug into the details of fantasy sports betting and what it can mean for casual game developers during his Casual Connect Europe 2015 lecture. “It’s a really, really big audience,” he says. “About one out of every four or five guys in the United States play fantasy sports of some kind. And most of them spend money to do it.” For a closer look, see the video below.
Derrick Morton may not have grown up to be the rockstar musician he was planning to be, but he’s definitely become a bit of a rockstar in the casual gaming industry.
It took some time to get there, though. Sticking true to his childhood dream, Derrick began his adulthood “trying to be a rockstar.” He got his first computer in 1983 in order to create some of the music his band was performing. Eventually though, he moved on to filmmaking — attending film school at USC.
Then, in 1994, Derrick got the call that changed everything. Someone was offering him a job producing a video game about filmmaking. “It was an incredible experience and I’ve been making games ever since,” he says. “Making games satisfies both my creative and computer geek sides perfectly.”
Now, with over 20 years of experience in the business, Derrick knows his way around. He’s led the development of more than 200 projects and has served in executive positions at several top online game companies, including iWin, Virtual Vegas, GameHouse and RealNetworks. He’s also been a part of five casual game startups.
Derrick loves the startup environment and enjoys seeing small companies grow into larger companies, eventually becoming a lucrative draw for the giants in the industry. The newest startup he helped found is FlowPlay, where he currently operates as the company’s CEO.
FlowPlay is the creator of casual massive multiplayer games ourWorld and Vegas World, the latter of which boasts over 2 million registered users. Derrick says that FlowPlay has been one of the most successful startups he’s worked at — much of that thanks to his previous startup experience. “I’ve seen all the patterns and growing pains that small companies go through, and I think this has helped me more and more each time.”
FlowPlay has definitely had its share of growing pains. In 2008, the company was out of money and had no way of acquiring customers for their new game, ourWorld. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Thanks to the recent economic collapse, investors were out of the market and FlowPlay was on the verge of going out of business. Luckily, Derrick was able to work out a distribution deal with Miniclip, and within weeks, the company started receiving thousands of new players, helping the business take off.
In addition, the company has had to reduce staff on two occasions, one of the hardest things Derrick says he’s had to deal with as a CEO. He does his best to balance the needs of the company with the needs of his employees, and when the company has faced a financial crisis, he makes sure he’s down in it with everyone else; he explains that he would never ask employees to make any sacrifices greater than he makes.
True to his word, during the two five-month periods when the company had to temporarily trim salaries, Derrick personally went without his own salary. Luckily, he says, “those days are way behind us, and we’ve much more than compensated the staff that had to endure that hardship.”
“Best. Boss. Ever.”
It’s clear that Derrick cares about his staff — and not just because of his actions during difficult financial times. Morton also keeps the company’s finances open to the staff so everyone can see how the company is doing month to month. He hosts events for the whole staff, which currently numbers over 50, and their families.
In fact, for Derrick, the best thing about his job is the people he gets to work with each day. He says that each one of his employees is a rockstar, and he enjoys the time he gets to spend with them. “I like talking with them about the work we do at FlowPlay, but I also enjoy getting to know them as people. We have events where everyone is encouraged to bring their families. Knowing that in some small way I’m helping dozens of people support families fills me with excitement, and I really enjoy hanging out with all of them.”
His employees clearly enjoy the workplace and Derrick’s leadership as well. He mentions that the vast majority of his staff have been acquired through recommendations from employees who tell their friends about how much they enjoy working at FlowPlay. His employees’ feelings can best be summarized by the mug they gave him for Christmas: “Best. Boss. Ever.”
When Derrick is seeking new employees, there are two things he looks for: The first is a love of games — “If you love games, you make great games,” he says. The second is confidence without ego — “there’s no room for people on my team that think they know more than everyone else.”
Derrick notes that FlowPlay doesn’t have producers, project managers, product managers or any other type of “non-contributor” involved in game development for this exact reason — everyone on a game team knows their worth and expects to make a great contribution, but they don’t expect to have complete control over anything. “It’s a completely flat organization where everyone has input and decisions are made by the team.”
Currently, FlowPlay’s teams focus on developing free-to-play games. He says that it’s “what the market wants today,” and it’s also the only way to maximize the profitability of the game you’re providing customers and make sure they pay what they find the game to be worth — whether that is $1 or $500.
Once a game or new feature has been developed, there are three levels of testing it goes through: The first is developer testing, in which developers check to make sure their features run smoothly; the second is QA testing, where the QA department tests all the new features for one week.
The third, Playtest, is a website where senior players can play a game using its latest features. “This allows us to see how everything holds up with a few hundred players in the game,” Derrick says. “This has been our process for seven years and seems to work well for us.” Playtesting allows FlowPlay to know right away if their players like new features and gives them a week to change anything before it goes live to the general public.
They also keep an eye on their live games to make sure customers are continuing to enjoy them and to take care of any potential red flags. One of the most unusual things they’ve discovered was how people were playing together in ourWorld. Players were roleplaying as families — mom, dad, son, daughter — an angle the developers had never even thought of.
Because people enjoyed being part of a virtual family so much, FlowPlay ended up making it part of the game’s feature set, allowing players to “adopt” other players into their families.
Shooting for the Stars
FlowPlay’s commitment to their employees, games and customers speaks for itself. The company continues to beat every sales record each month and make shareholders happy. He considers this the highlight of his career, saying, “My proudest moments are still happening every month.”
As Derrick looks to the future of both the casual gaming industry and FlowPlay itself, he sees one thing above all else: sports fans. Morton says that sports fans have been largely ignored by the casual game market, yet they are rabid gamers who spend lots of money. “Casual game companies should be looking at this market. FlowPlay is building a new sports-based MMO to address this under-appreciated psychographic.”
In true rockstar fashion, Derrick Morton and FlowPlay are putting it all out there and turning their vision to reality.